Opinion: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen teaching Lions counterpart Warren Gatland a lesson

OPINION: Don't worry too much Warren Gatland, you're not the only one who's been caught by surprise by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

After 13 years with the team you'd think that Hansen would become somewhat predictable, but his selections and tactics during this British and Irish Lions tour have shown there's plenty of life in the big dog yet.

For a man who everyone suggests is extremely loyal with his selections, no one predicted he'd drop try-scoring freak Julian Savea ahead of the first Test for a guy who hadn't even started a Test match before.

But the selection proved to be a master-stroke, as it often is with Hansen, as Rieko Ioane scored two tries and delivered on the faith that was shown to him on one of rugby's biggest stages.

Now Hansen's given Hurricanes wrecking-ball Ngani Laumape a chance to make his Test debut off the bench in Wellington on Saturday night based on his blockbusting outing on Tuesday night.

No one picked that either, but it's a great message that Hansen's sending to his squad: if you perform well, you'll get picked no matter what your past record suggests.

It must've been tempting to put Beauden Barrett back at fullback and go with Aaron Cruden at first-five for the second test in what would be a safety-first option.

Not Hansen though.

Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

It's all-out attack with Waisake Naholo on the right-wing, another sign that the astute coach is anything but conservative with his selections.

And it's not just his selections that are keeping everyone guessing, his tactics also show he's one step ahead of everyone, especially the opposition.

Gatland was expecting plenty of kicks in behind and "champagne rugby" from the All Blacks in the first Test at Eden Park. 

What he got was a rugby lesson from Hansen as the All Blacks pack rampaged up the middle through the tourists who didn't know what hit them.

Then there's the verbal warfare that's been going back and forth for the entire tour. 

While Gatland's been stressed, whinging, and contradicting himself at media conferences, Hansen stays cool, calm, and in control with his public persona.

He appears to have rattled him to the extent that the Lions coach made a last minute adjustment to delay the naming of his side, pushing the announcement out until after the All Blacks' own presser, denying Hansen the opportunity to land any further jibes.

If Gatland thought he was in the running for the coaching job when Hansen presumably steps down after the 2019 World Cup, he's got a lot of ground to make up if he wants to follow in the footsteps of arguably the best All Blacks coach of all-time.

John Day is a sports reporter for Newshub

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